Thirty kilometres north of Quang Ngai along Highway 1A is another good war vestige where there's still something left to see.
You'll have to make special arrangements through a tour agency if you want transport to and from the site, but it's really an ideal spot to visit on motorbike. It's a huge area, not suited to strolling around or cycling, and the terrain is pretty rough, even for a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
Chu Lai was an important base for the American army, navy, and air force during the war (the soldiers that participated in the My Lai massacre were based out of there). The area was very heavily bombed by the North Vietnamese towards the end of the war. Almost all of the structures, and certainly all of the debris, have been carted away. What's left is a landscape pock-marked with bomb craters, and two intersecting airstrips that are still in pretty good shape.
Heading north from Quang Ngai, you'll start to see the remains of the airbase on your right as you appoach km 30. There's an access road running parallel to the highway on the east side -- it's in very bad shape and isn't used for traffic anymore, though you can find some paths where you can get on to it from the main road. It's mostly used by herdsmen, and we found several hay ricks sitting in the middle of the road, which is washed out in several places.
Between the access road and the sea, about three kilometres further to the east, is the area occupied by the base. If you've got a sturdy motorbike, you can explore the dirt paths and you'll notice a lot of sink holes that don't seem to have been made by mother nature. It's hard to get a sense of it at first, but once you start to realise that all those holes were made by bombs, you get a better picture of what this spot must have been like right after the war. A moonscape. A lot of the vegetation has recovered, of course, and we found some kids bathing in a lily-covered pond on the site, which is also popular with water buffalo. We assume all the unexploded ordinance has been cleared, but it's still probably wise to stay on the well-travelled pathways.
You'll see a line of airplane hangars in the distance to the east, closer to the beach. It's hard to get to them through the airfield, so the best thing to do is get back on the main road. At just about exactly kilometre 30 there is a gateway on the right with a uniformed guard -- the sign indicates that it's the entrance to Chu Lai. The guard is pretty much just there to wave you through if you want to go in and look around. The road heading east from the gate leads immediately to the east-west airstrip, and about half-way down its length there is another runway going north-south. Continuing due east you'll eventually hook up with a new beach road. It's impressively built, but largely unused -- its sole purpose is to connect to the small Chu Lai Airport which is where you'll want to head next. Take a right, and you'll see the hangars up ahead on the right. The hangars are left over from the war and were used by the American forces -- now they've been appropriated by the people and are being used to house planes at the airport. We couldn't get the guard to let us in to take a closer look, but it might be possible if you catch the right guard on the right day. You can get a good peek at the hangars through the gate.
To finish up the journey, head north on the airport road until it ends and take a right -- a few kilometres later is Chu Lai beach, which has some places to eat and a nice patch of sand.
To leave the beach, head due west for 3 km until you rejoin Highway 1A.
If you somehow wind up in the area for the night, there are a bunch of cheap guesthouses along this section of Highway 1A and plenty of services. All in all, we give Chu Lai high marks as a worthwhile stop on the Vietnam 'war tour'.
Last updated on 24th July, 2007.